On June 23, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld affirmative action, reasserting the legality of considering race as a factor for admissions into U.S. universities. This practice, proponents argue, increases class diversity and benefits the members of the class as a whole, while aiding students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Perhaps more interesting than what the policies of affirmative action entail in theory, however, is examining how U.S. universities put them into practice.
The movement for diversity in public institutions all began with Brown v. Board of Education (1954), when the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of schools unconstitutional. Green v. County School Board (1968) then declared that voluntary segregation was unacceptable, and that the desegregation of schools must be actively monitored.
Originally, the policies of affirmative action were created and administered by U.S. universities in response to activists’ concerns that, because of a history of discrimination and poverty, black people were ill-prepared to compete in the admissions process and receive adequate education. Later, socially progressive schools across the country began implementing hard racial quotas to ensure diversity in their incoming classes. In the 1968 case of California v. Bakke, however, the Supreme Court ruled this practice unconstitutional. Consideration of race in admissions decisions, the Court held, was permissible only as part of a “holistic” approach to admissions, whereby race would be just one of many factors under consideration.
The recent ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas is just the latest in a long chain of Supreme Court cases upholding the integrity of the Bakke ruling. Now, if the policies of affirmative action were administered with the simple intention as to level the playing field, I would be all for it.
Sadly, this is not the case.
U.S. universities seem to believe that the right to consider race in college admissions, which they originally desired in order aid disadvantaged black applicants, now also allows them to set an enrollment cap on another U.S. minority. U.S. universities abuse this power, citing affirmative action, and use their knowledge of every applicant’s race not for the noble cause for which it was originally intended, but in order to discriminate against Asians.
In my junior year of high school, the topic of college admissions was obsessively on the tip of everyone’s tongue. In one of our many conversations on the subject, a white friend of mine, who is now a rising junior at Brown University, candidly confessed that he “loved affirmative action.”
Why? “Because affirmative action benefits everyone, except Asians,” he replied matter-of-factly.
He was right. It is common knowledge among all college-bound students today that candidates are only in competition with those from their own race, which meant that, to his evident relief, he would not be facing competition from Asian students with possibly superior qualifications.
If college admissions do not wish to consider Asians a disadvantaged group the same way that they consider the black and Hispanic communities, despite our also having suffered historically from systematized oppression at the hands of white America — under the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Alien Land Law, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Luce-Celler Act, among countless others — then so be it. However, not only have Asians never benefited from any sort of affirmative action-type measures, but they are held to distinct standards exceeding even that of white people, effectively excluding all but the very best from admission to top-tier universities.
But why, I question, if Asians are not to be considered a disadvantaged group, should they not at least be evaluated alongside white people, rather than separately from them? Is it because, perhaps, that the racially homogenous bodies governing our country’s elite schools fear that direct competition with Asians might pose a threat to the majority enrollment that their white students currently enjoy?
Bluntly, the purpose of this factional admissions process is two-fold. To the sheer exaltation of xenophobic white America, this enrollment cap ensures that elite universities’ Asian populations are controlled at a low, steady 20 perfect. It also ensures that whites may safely continue to constitute a majority population at these institutions.
I understand that diversity is necessary for a healthy college culture. I agree that policies need to be in place to ensure that those with relatively less are given a fair shot. But to U.S. universities, minority enrollment is only desirable as long as they remain minorities, and diversity is only measured by the color of one’s skin. I may be Asian, but I believe that I contribute significantly by way of diversity not through my demographics but through what I can contribute as an individual. To be told that as members of our race we collectively do not add to an institution’s diversity offensively likens us to robots — which we are not, contrary to our demeaning stereotype and perhaps popular opinion.
I have made it to Penn. I suppose one could say that I am one of the Asians who have succeeded. But with just a month left until we welcome the Class of 2020, I wanted to commend all the Asians in this country who did, and especially those who did not, gain admission into their dream university, as well as all the Asians here on this campus who still feel less-than. Have you ever noticed that whenever an accomplishment is preceded by the fact that its achiever is of Asian heritage, it becomes immediately less impressive? But I refuse to be dismissed as your typical Asian — I am an accomplished and talented individual who deserves more than just a socially constructed qualifier.
Until college admissions at Penn and across the U.S. can see that, I expect that they will continue to manipulate the policies of affirmative action to educate and perpetuate the white elite. But the model minority today knows better than its predecessors. We are growing tired of yielding to our nation’s injustices and playing into its racist, obsolete stereotypes.
We can shoulder our burden in silence — but we cannot silence the roar of a troubled conscience.
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